Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Check out Red Slowly.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Physical Acts: Thornton Dial and Reclamation

Growing up in rural Missouri, I wasn’t exposed to much art. So when, at 19, I visited Monet’s Water Lily Gallery in Paris’s Musée de l'Orangerie, I was literally moved to tears by the sheer beauty of Monet’s paintings as they curved around the gallery he had specially designed. From that moment on, I realized art – visual, literary, or musical – is physical. Before the intellect kicks in and starts theorizing, historicizing, and contextualizing, the body reacts. To paraphrase the oft-used Emily Dickinson quote, one feels as if your head has been taken off – leaving only the body to appreciate the work. .

For me, it is often this initial reaction that forms my strongest and most lasting impression of a work of art. And since, my first such experience was with Monet’s Water Lilies it has become, for better or worse and even though they are no longer my favorite works of art, the benchmark by which I judge my reaction to other visual art. Few works have reached that level, but the work of self-taught African-American artist Thornton Dial has.

That long preamble was basically to say Dial’s current show at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston blew me away.

Using a vast array of found objects, from carpet scraps to two-litter soda bottles, from cattle bones to car parts, Dial creates large-scale two- and three-dimensional works that transform the debris of history into explorations of post-9/11 America, race, nature, and life. But what struck me first was the physicality of the work. In The Beginning of Life in the Yellow Jungle transcends the quieter color-fields of Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, by arranging plastic soda bottles, dolls, pieces of clothing, wire, found metal, gloves, and plastic flowers on a large canvas and then painting everything yellow, invoking a three-dimensional color field alive with a sense of movement and chaos.

While In The Beginning... celebrates birth, Dial’s Lost Farm (Billy Goat Hill) emanates a sense of death and loss by assembling a gray field of desiccated animal carcasses, old shoes, tire scraps, and pieces of farm tools.

Though Dial’s visionary (in the sense of Blake) approach to color and objects transfigures the various components into a new whole, Dial constantly reminds the viewer of the objects origins as the scraps, the detritus, of society, generating a tension between an almost spiritual beauty and its mundane, ugly origins.

Thinking of Dial’s work I can’t help but think of Google-sculpted poetry such as flarf. While Dial searches fields and farms for cast-off junk, the poet clicks around the internet gathering cast-off phrases to reassemble into a new construct. Though Dial draws more from the industrial age and the poets more from the information age, there are similar impulses at work: attempts to reclaim, to reshape, to reconstruct society’s debris. Found objects/found phrases “pouring through the vernacular” (Drew Gardner, Petroleum Hat).

But Dial’s work unlike poetry has space and literal physicality. His work’s physical presence draws the viewer corporally into Dial’s vision(s). You become one of the found objects reclaimed from society’s trash heap. Dial transmutes objects and viewer creating a moment, a space, that might also transform, even if just briefly, society.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Domestic Projects: A Random Thought on Gertrude Stein and Lorrie Moore

What do Lorrie Moore and Gertrude Stein have in common, other than I’m reading both of them right now? They write in different genres (does Stein actually write in a known “genre”?). They are separated by three or four generations. Even after nearly a century Stein’s brilliance is still somewhat obscured, while Moore, though hardly a bestseller, is widely praised.

And maybe the fact that I’m reading them at the same time, and that they both write in English, is all they have in common. Maybe I’m just seeking connections between unconnectable “things.” But I do see a connection. Domesticity. Or more the perversion of domesticity. Or maybe the problem of the perversion of domesticity. They both explore the tension between an idealized view of domesticity and a perceived reality, and the tension between domesticity and the exotic, the undomestic.

Their strategies are very different, which is reflected in their choice of genres. In Tender Buttons, Stein takes the actual language of domesticity (Objects, Food, Rooms), and, as if the nouns and verbs were physical objects, turns it on its heads, scrambles it and reassembles it into some adult version of Green Eggs and Ham. She throws an entire house through a cracked looking glass and forces the reader to climb in after it, forcing us to rethink our relationship to both language and the items she “describes.” (I’m using describes very loosely.)

Moore also employs a cracked looking glass, but instead of throwing things throw it she forces her characters in front of it. She approaches domesticity not through it’s framework or it’s language, but through its population. Moore’s characters seem to inhabit the domestic space’s Stein has de/relanguaged. Stein’s spaces seem devoid of inhabitants. Her response to the void of the domestic is too tear it down and rebuild it. Moore’s response is less radical, or at least more subtle, she forces you to live there.

The obvious problem is I’m comparing jackhammers to faulty plumbing and shredded blue jeans, experimental poetry to well-crafted short stories, anti-narrative to narrative. In this case, both are highly valuable as art, and together highlight the limits of each approach. Stein’s writing seems supra-human, but also devoid of characters, even “humanity” at times. Language seems to replace everything, and it doing so throws, necessarily, into question our very relationship to language, and our relationship to the “reality” it purports to describe. Moore deals less with the questions of language, and more with character’s relationship to “reality” as the character perceives it.

Is a melding of Stein and Moore possible? Not a compromise between the two, but something that radically reharmonizes the two into something new. (Maybe it has already occurred and I’m not aware of it, maybe Fanny Howe’s fractured and fragile domestic scenes). Because it seems the more I read Stein, who I tried to read at 19, during my Beat-phase and couldn’t wrap my head around (not that I have wrapped my head around her now), the more I think that much of contemporary “post-avant” poetry is trying to recreate, rewrite Stein. She often seems more influential than Pound or Eliot or Williams, and more modern than all three, and a better “contemporary” poet that many contemporary poets. However, Moore writes, stylistically at least, as if Stein never did, yet Moore inhabits similar spaces. It seems that instead of just rewiring Stein, an interesting project would be forcing Moore’s characters to not just live in Stein’s de/reconstructed spaces, but also in her de/reconstructed language.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


I am a little behind on my reading. My theory about poetry books is to buy the ones that look interesting the moment I see them, regardless of what I have unread at home, since with limited print runs and the shortage of good poetry sections, I may never see the book again. And my job, unfortunately limits my reading time – I have to read for work, which is both a pleasure and a curse. So I have stacks of books that I haven’t read yet.

I bought Lisa Jarnot’s Black Dog Songs at Gotham Book Mart. I can’t remember if it was when I was still living in New York or on a visit after I moved. But I do remember being initially attracted to the book as an object – the smaller trim size, the striking cover image, the nice brown endpapers, the picture of a dock jutting into a frozen pond where the author photo should be, the clean, crisp font and typesetting. Then I read two or three of the poems and thought they seemed very interesting. I bought it and added it to my to-be-read pile.

Unfortunately, it’s taken me two years to actually read it – my loss, since Jarnot, who I hadn’t read before, is one of the most original poets of my generation. Reading this collection of hard, crystalline poems is like watching DNA split and recombine, like entering a strange world of fractured fairy tales and children’s rhymes.

Her poetry, like few others, really returns us to the oral/aural nature of poetry. It revels in the joys of sound. It demands to be read aloud, and doubles, no triples in power, yes this poetry has power, raw power, when read aload:

Tatters of love and lack of love they loved the love forgotten in the springtime in the street they loved the garbage and the peanuts and the smoke, of that they love the him they loved they loved him in the fountains and the park, they loved the tatters of the park

- from Tatters of Love, p. 29

Using repeating sounds she lifts “love,” arguably the most overused word in poetry, from it’s triteness, dusts it off, and restores it. Poem after poem is like this, words becoming sounds, sounds becoming song. Yet the words meanings, their cultural baggage, still haunt the reader creating a tension that adds a strange drama to these poems. I’m not sure how she does it.

But reading these poems I can’t help but think of traditional forms like villanelles, sestinas, and nursery rhymes – the repeating sounds and rhymes building layer upon layer, resonating, echoing. Jarnot is an avant-formalist reinventing rhyme, restoring the lyrical, creating fractured and necessary songs.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Yoko Otomo's SMALL POEMS

Yuko Otomo’s Small Poems is appropriately bound like a reporter’s notebook. As you read, you sense the immediacy of the language as if you had become some poet/reporter/repo[et]rter wandering an urban, almost post-apocalyptic, landscape jotting down fractured Zen-like observations:

a house cat is watching
spring snow
through a glass window

on the wall
a headless man is running
thinking, carrying his far-sighted forest

at my feet
an ancient grain is swimming
in a pool of melancholy


there is not so much day time left

-Spring Snow (Ce-Pha-Lo-Phore)

…tossing off Creeley/Ikkyu-like witticisms:

in summer
we love wind

in winter
we hate it

wind never changes

-Attitude of Mind


all you need is
water & (slight)




love? Well—

-General Botany

Alas, Ugly Duckling Presse is sold out, making this chapbook as ephemeral as the precise and beautiful language it attempts to keep within its covers. I found my copy a few weeks ago at Gotham Book Mart. It’s well worth the effort to see if they have another.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Google + Poetry = Googletry (Part 2)

A couple of other poets and myself have played around with the raw googled language from the previous post and whittled it down to a poem.

Here is Thomas Basbøll’s contribution to the experiment:

Welcome to the Death Clock: a friendly, second by second reminder to work out the percentage of memories that are designed, manufactured and tested to specifications.

Here are the updated graphs for October. As you can see, the fish leapt from the water. This framework only provides guidelines: a limited amount of content. There will be "more deep cuts".

Here is Brian Campbell’s work in progress, in which he strayed a bit from the original idea and included a couple additional lines including some Spam:


Welcome to the Death Clock, the Internet’s friendly reminder that life is slipping away... second by second.
Would you like to increase your brain power today?
Have some Hallmark ornaments you just don't want anymore?
What is the impact of recent hurricanes on U.S. Oil Markets?
Stanford University scientists have discovered a potential new weapon in the battle of the bulge: a hormone that reduces the urge to eat.
At least 500,000 earthquake survivors in Pakistan still have no shelter.
The dust-up in the Dungeon video arcade began when a group of Jordanian teenagers cursed aloud about the television reports.
Love is when you look into someone's eyes, and suddenly you go all the way inside their soul and you both know it.
The first space mission in a decade to Earth's closest neighbour, Venus, has blasted off.
Sensational revolution in medicine! Enlarge your penis up to 10 cm or 4 inches!
"We rented an apartment," she said, adding that her husband taught her how to use her explosives belt.
We drowsed for a while in the gentle purling murmur of the river, until Demi spoke again.
Why are you jerking off to this ten-second video clip?
Welcome to the Death Clock, the Internet’s friendly reminder that life is slipping away... second by second.

And here is my attempt:


that is
ured and
updated graphs
the opening
a limited
of content
available in
English please
for more
Blue Steel
the areas of
buildings and
a New York college
an existential
nightmare victims
of a cruel
and enduring myth Love is when you look
into someone's
not want
to be free
it wants
to be brief economics
bath water

The interesting thing about this process was that after a point it was like I was editing/whittling down my own language. After the initial cut, it was as if I had appropriate that language as my own, reclaimed it from a vast internet wasteland, language reclamation. Robert Archambeau asks:

Lately, I suppose, everything feels like a headline, and every headline feels like a lie. How to talk back? More headlines?

Is this reparsing of language a way of talking back? This seems to be partly the idea of flarf as expressed Gary Sullivan and Stan Apps. Though flarf seems to be more a challenge to poet (flarfer), reader, and society alike:

Flarf was never meant to put anyone at ease. It is not about writing "bad" poetry; it was never about that. "Bad" and "good" are irrelevant terms to flarf. It was about putting oneself into uncomfortable positions vis-à-vis the work. Literally, making manifest discomfort. In oneself, and--presumably--in one's readers.

I don’t think what I was doing here is flarf as defined by Sullivan and others. I found the process as I approached it interesting more for the randomness of the language, the raw material that was generated, and as an “act” of reclaiming and reprocessing “nonpoetic” language. Maybe this is as Sullivan quipped about Tony Tost’s “I Am Not A Pilot”, “What new wave was to punk.” But is there really a problem with being Elvis Costello? (Udate: According to Tony he was pre-flarf, thus pub rock, The Motors maybe.)

I think the process has many implications about how lanaguge works and the role of the poet/sculptur/shaper that I want to think through. One of the most interesting is that, as Thomas puts it, it deprives "the poet of some habitual vanities" and demystifies "linguistic inspiration." Poetry generated from the outside, from beyond the limited conception of “the self” or “the inspired poet.”

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Google + Poetry = Googletry (Part 1)

Thomas Basbøll has decided to take the idea (if it can be called that) of Flarf one step further:

This brings me to my point, which is about Flarf as procedurally defined. The use of Google shows how the poem might be understood as "criticism in a new composition" of existing usage.One can imagine a poetry (and this prose is trying to be a contribution to its poetics) that works in two windows: one is used to run Google searches, the other is a simple text editor (NotePad, for example). Text is cut out from the one and placed in the other and is then "workshopped" until perfect…

After all, consider the following line of thinking. Suppose there is no longer any need for "original compositions". Suppose that we can be sure that all the writing we will ever need is already getting done, more or less automatically. Suppose only the weeder is now needed.

An interesting idea, so for fun I thought I would try an experiment and Google some raw material. Using the rhyming words from Shakespeare first sonnet, I did three different Google searches: a general search, a news search, and a blog search. Then, I chose the first item from Google’s resutls, and then selected the first complete sentence from the source site. (Note for the news and blog results I included a link to the source site. I didn’t think of this while doing the general seacrh).

Here are the results:


[Increase] Would you like to increase your brain power today?

[Die] Welcome to the Death Clock(TM), the Internet's friendly reminder that life is slipping away... second by second.

[Decrease] How to work out percentage increase and decrease.

[Memory] Memory that is designed, manufactured and tested to the specifications of brand name computer systems.

[Eyes] Hi - and welcome to Eyes on Design!

[Fuel] What is the impact of recent hurricanes on U.S. Oil Markets?

[Lies] Here are the updated graphs of US war deaths in Iraq for October.

[Cruel] The candiru fish shown in these gruesome photos leapt from the water and attacked the penis of a urinating Brazilian.

[Ornament] Have some Hallmark ornaments you just don't want anymore?

[Spring] Welcome to the home of the Spring Framework.

[Content] These guidelines explain how to make web content accessible to people with disabilities.

[Niggarding] As the opening sonnet of the sequence, this one obviously has especial importance.

[Be] For the moment only a limited amount of content is available in English.

[Thee] "More Deep Cuts" is out now in the US. please visit Turn Records for more info.


[Increase] A significant rate increase given by federal regulators to Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Co. to decommission its plant at Haddam Neck is drawing fire from state officials and is under review by a judge.

[Die] At least 500,000 earthquake survivors in Pakistan still have no shelter with the fierce Himalayan winter just days away, international relief agencies have warned.

[Decrease] Stanford University scientists have discovered a potential new weapon in the battle of the bulge: a hormone that reduces the urge to eat.

[Memory] The iPod nano is already behind the cutting edge — and that’s good news.

[Eyes] The recent joint venture between Tata Steel and Blue Scope Steel of Australia will focus on the areas of pre-engineered buildings and steel-intensive buildings.

[Fuel] The dust-up in the Dungeon video arcade began when a group of Jordanian teenagers cursed aloud about television reports that at least one of the suicide bombings that shook this city Wednesday was carried out by an Iraqi.

[Lies] With his 2002 novel The Horned Man, James Lasdun delivered a taut tale about a New York college professor trapped in an existential nightmare.

[Cruel] ONE of the UK's leading authorities on the First World War has launched an outspoken defence of the British generals involved in the conflict, insisting they are the victims of a cruel and enduring myth.

[Ornament] This family of five is struggling financially, but active in school and church.

[Spring] Spring of 2004 may be just a distant memory, but it figures prominently in the outlook for Tuesday's opening day of firearms deer season.

[Content] The first space mission in a decade to Earth's closest neighbour, Venus, has blasted off.

[Niggarding] Your search - Niggarding - did not match any documents.

[Be] Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz today proposed that the SAARC Summit and other meetings be streamlined to make them business like.

[Thee] California emigres should have to pass a brief economics test before being welcomed as Nevada voters.


[Increase] The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources, a hundredfold increase over historic norms.

[Die] Well today went far better than I thought it would.

[Decrease] Olivier Blanchard's latest on European unemployment:

[Memory] Hey guys!

[Eyes] Love is when you look into someone's eyes, and suddenly you go all the way inside their soul and you both know it.

[Fuel] The Union of Concerned Scientists has a new Flash animation parodying the Bush administration's flawed proposal to revamp fuel economy standards in the US.

[Lies] Having a high focus on career indicates that you are extremely focused on furthering you career right now.

[Cruel] Amazing. Waterboarding (pictured above) is merely a "psychological technique," not rising to the level of torture.

[Ornament] I hope you all had a good weekend!

[Spring] Ha! I finally created my perfect spring semester schedule.

[Content] Information does not want to be free, it wants to be seen!

[Niggarding] From fairest creatures we desire [sic] increase,

[Be] But hey ho... I'm waiting for the bath water to heat up instead :).

[Thee] It's good to see pieces like this one from the Washington Post.


Are these poems yet? A collection of found objects? Readymades? Or raw material in need of “weeding” and “workshopping” (or "worshipping", according to spell check)? Most art that uses found objects, like Cornell’s boxes, relies on the artist to “edit” and juxtapose according to his or her “vision.” But is randomness, or at least structured randomness in this case, also art?

At the very least, this is a collection of raw material to be manipulated/transformed/workshopped edited into something else. I might try that in a following post, and the material is open for anyone else’s use. It would be interesting to see what becomes of this language in the hands of various writers.

Sound Design

Proof (or at least a reminder) that poetry is also an oral/aural art, read aloud:

occurs a curve of
sound or sign

occurs a curve
of sound design waiting

awaiting occurs
a curve of sound design

This is the first section of Lisa Jarnot’s “Triptych” (from Black Dog Songs. On the page it appears slight. Read aloud you become a mellifluous cacophony.

A Little Mercy Now

Ambviablog reminds us, even if most of the press has moved on, that over 80,000 people died in the recent earthquake in Pakistan, over 3 million are still homeless, and thousands upon thousands are without even temporary shelter, blankets, sufficient food, or medical supplies. She suggests giving to Mercy Corps.

Stuffed Armadillos?

By the time an aesthetic movement is named, its players grouped into a school, does it no longer exist? Has it become an object in a museum, a stuffed armadillo, manipulated to suggest movement, but lifeless?

By trying to name the movement does the namer, like Adam, try to take control of the named, or try to create a community, a safe place for the schooled? Are both possibilities a danger to art?

By naming it is it now historical? Has it become something outside the named, something to be claimed by anyone?